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Back in January I treated myself to a new laptop, a mobile workstation. Compared to my old laptop, the new machine was operating at the speed of light. However, with all the software that came and went over the months, and despite regular system maintenance, some minor but annoying bugs had crept in along with the performance slowly declining. At some point reinstalling your machine simply is inevitable. Although my system was not at that point yet, I decided it was time to clear the battlefield last weekend.

To me this is not a tedious task, I actually quite enjoy the process. But the thing is that setting up a system from scratch, plus restoring personal settings, user data and backups, takes a lot of time. Sometimes you may not have the time. Thus, for emergencies it’s always wise to have a quick fix better than a Knoppix CD. There are two ways…

Create a System Image

If you currently have a stable and smoothly running system, you can create an image of your system. This is the most comfortable solution because it incorporates all your personal settings and preferences.

The tool of choice here is Paragon’s Drive Backup Express. It’s a model piece of software: fast, intuitive user interface, thorough documentation, and it’s free. OK, the happy guy next to the menu is a little too much.

To install the program you need to obtain a free serial, which means you have to register with Paragon using a valid eMail address. I think for a software of this quality that’s a reasonable thing to ask for.

The setup is straightforward, no more surprises. The menu is the first thing that comes up when the program is loaded. Since Drive Backup uses hot backup technology, backups can run while the computer is being used, which makes it very comfortable to use. Unfortunately, the free version does not offer scheduled backups.

Step 1: Select what you want to back up.

Step 2: Start, sit back and wait or continue working.

Step 3: Check the file for validity.

Step 4: Build recovery media for the case that you cannot boot your computer.
This can be a flash memory stick or a CD/DVD disk. When using a USB stick please be aware that all files currently on the stick will be removed. The stick will become a dedicated recovery medium, so you should get a separate one for this purpose.

Step 5: Disaster!
In case of disaster, insert your recovery medium, start your computer, make sure the BIOS lets you boot from your USB stick or CD/DVD drive, start the recovery program on the stick and launch the Simple Restore Wizard. The whole procedure is very, very well documented in the user guide and it really isn’t complicated. However, if you want to be super safe, print it.

When I tried to run the recovery, I had slight issues using the normal mode. The program would freeze half way through loading from CD. So I tried the safe mode and again had some issues, this time with hard drive i/o errors. However, the program continued and once it listed all detected partitions and drives I quickly located the backup file and ran a restoration on my old laptop without any further problems.

Create a Custom Installation CD

If creating an image from a running system is not an option, you can at least prepare an installation CD that will spare you the hassle of manually adding user accounts, drivers, software, and more.

A great tool for this task is Vitali Graf’s Windows Unattended CD Creator. What you need is a valid Windows CD and all the software, drivers, patches and hotfixes you wish to include in your custom CD. The program also requires Net Framework 1.1 or 2.0 installed. For the creation of the CD you will naturally need software and respective hardware able to burn ISO images on CD or DVD The Best, Free Alternatives to Nero CD/DVD Burner The Best, Free Alternatives to Nero CD/DVD Burner Don't waste money on a CD/DVD burning tool! A freeware application might be all you need. Here we have compiled five alternatives to Nero Burning ROM for your Windows PC. Read More , and a blank disk.

What’s your ritual for restoring your operating system? Which strategies and tools are you applying?

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  1. mike
    May 17, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Three steps:
    Make a copy of the existing system out of the box if the computer is brand new. You never know what junk ware will be needed later. Doesn't matter what tool you use, but I like one that creates a boot able disk with the image that allows you to reformat and re-image automatically with the re-boot. I still yearn for the days of Norton's Ghost, but most of the tools today cost an arm and leg or take some fiddling- sigh... but Paragon's product is good. Media doesn't matter, but I like DVDs I can move off site.

    Rip out all the bloat ware and install all your goodies. Make a second image. I write my "stuff" to a portable drive, so I can work with clean images and just squirt my current stuff back onto a new re-image.

    Every so often, before folding your socks look over your system and make a new custom image. We all change the "goodies" list on our PC and you may want the "new goodie" that replaced the old one in the old image disk, so take a few minutes ever so often to update your recovery disk.

    Presto change-o, you are good to go and protected against every common PC failure except nuclear attack, zombie apocalypse, the end of the world etc.

    • Tina Sieber
      May 17, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      Good advice, Mike. Thank you for sharing your process!

  2. shokti
    July 31, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I have used DriveImageXML recently and it works, although it is limited since you cannot do incremental backup, and cannot restore to a smaller hard drive size, but for free software its great. Just make sure to set the partition active on the new drive or it will not boot after you restore.

  3. Aibek
    August 23, 2008 at 5:37 am

    Thanks for the guide, I am just planning to reinstall my system so this was right on time for me.

  4. Henry
    August 22, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Nice guide, thanks!
    How do you compare this with the Clonezilla? I have recently used Clonezilla to backup and restore my computer and it works fine. However Clonezilla doesn't have the nice interface as this one and you can't use the computer while is running.